In Islam, it is believed that Prophet Mohammed is escaping from people who are trying to capture him. An angel tells him to find shelter in a cave, where he is concerned of being trapped. The angel insists and he abides. He acknowledges the presence of a spider at the entrance of the cave before he enters it. Upon entering, the spider weaves an intricate web across the entrance of the cave. His enemies catch up to him and are mesmerized by the web and come to the conclusion it would have been impossible for him to be in the cave, otherwise the web would have been broken — alas, the Prophet was protected. Muslims are never to kill a spider as they are considered to be “بركة,” a blessing. Something so small produces something so seemingly fragile and yet incredibly resilient. Eventually his enemies move forth and, in order to leave the cave to migrate onward to Mecca, the Prophet must break the very thing that protected him.
Conflict is More Profitable Than Peace is a photographed binder translated into time-based media documenting the ongoing war in Yemen. It attempts to unravel the intricate web of facts and players that have generated the complicated state of affairs from which one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time has emerged. By naming both victims and culprits the research presents a less distracted image of “who” while still pursuing the question of “why?” Rather than redacting, the highlighted research manifests into an evidentiary mapping drawing attention to those who hide behind black ink and thus, revealing a different panorama as a testimony to the mounting evidence of war crimes. In order to sustain itself, my adopted country, the United States of America, depends on the destruction of my native country, Yemen, and others like it. The closest term to describe this feeling must be a relative to cannibalism.
Gestures emerge, such as the photographic series UNDER THREAD (2019), auto portraits, where I am both a passive and active participant, subject and photographer, victim and culprit. The thread is significant as it is drawn from religious and mythical histories. In Islam, while fleeing from his enemies, Prophet Mohammed seeks shelter in a cave. Upon entering, a spider weaves an intricate web across the entrance so that when his enemies catch up to him, they are mesmerized by it. They come to the conclusion that had he been in the cave the web would have been broken. They continue on and the Prophet is saved. It is for this reason that we must never kill spiders as they are considered بركة, blessing. However, in order to leave the cave to migrate onward, the Prophet breaks the very thing that protected him.
Arabia Felix—Happy Arabia— was known for being the land plentiful in architecture, jewelry, textiles, salt, coffee, honey, frankincense, and myrrh, given that its geographic location was as a significant hub on trade routes linking East Africa, South Asia and East Asia. By the 80’s, this great civilization had dwindled into divided, corrupt states, which had become afterthoughts of their respective colonial rulers, the British in the south and the Ottomans in the north.
In 1985, I was born to a Yugoslav mother, Fevzija Sahinagic, and a Southern Yemeni father, Ali Mohamed Radman al-Qubati – two countries that no longer exist under these monikers or within their previous borders. During my childhood in Sana’a, between 1985 and 1998, my family would experience the Balkan genocide, from afar, and the Yemeni civil wars, up close. In 1994, at the age of nine, the Yemeni civil wars would culminate into a violent “unification” of two polar states: North Yemen, a dictatorial republic, South Yemen, a socialist state, and many ancient tribes.
My most vivid memory was when my father returned home with the news that we wouldn't be evacuated because we were not on “the list.” The list of evacuees included US citizens, French, British, Germans, Swiss, Italians... and did not include Bosnians, who at the time were still considered Yugoslavs. My mother would be offered evacuation weeks after the first call. From a very young age I was made aware of the value of what was, and still is, commonly known as the “blue book” –– the US passport represented protection.
A few years later, we would move to the United States, and take on our new status as US citizens and residents–– we would be protected. Not long after, September 11th would erupt in what would be considered one of the worst attacks on US soil. Two weeks after the attacks, my father would lose his job at Staples. A lawsuit followed and he was left unemployed. The war on Iraq would erupt and the United States would acknowledge their blind spot by immediately recruiting from the pool of loyal immigrants to serve as translators, my father being one of them.
As a citizen I face this word constantly. Am I complicit by the taxes I pay? The source of where my money comes? Or to where my money goes? Am I complicit for the politicians that I vote into office? I voted for Barack Obama in 2012. During his second term Obama would initiate the US support of the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict in Yemen. The place we fled to was destroying the place we fled from. Yara Bayoumy of Reuters reported on September 7th, 2016 that “U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has offered Saudi Arabia more than $115 billion in weapons, other military equipment and training, the most of any U.S. administration in the 71-year U.S.-Saudi alliance.” It triggered yet another occasion in which Arab Americans would be at war with themselves. It remains to be one of the only agreements that Donald Trump honored and carried over into his presidency by solidifying the $110+ billion weapons deal on that day and $350 billion over ten years. He signed it with Mohamed Ben Selman, on my thirty-second birthday, May 20th, 2017. But it wouldn’t be myself, or the people of the United States, at large, that would profit, but rather its companies, most notably in this case Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics.
Over the years the news would continue to get even more obfuscated, not by the lack of media, but rather the saturation of it. While the war abroad is one of violence imposed on others, the war at home is one of augmenting figurative and literal walls that continue to systematically threaten our sense of agency and degrade our individual power, diminish our voice and deplete our concern for others, therefore shifting our long held identity as “caretakers” to one of “warmakers”. The access to information has only pummeled our attention span to a limited amount of processable crises at any given time where each week the magnifying glass shifts across the covers of newspapers–– Syria, Iraq, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Myanmar… and then there are the domestic crises, including weapon laws, healthcare, border controls, children in camps, school shootings, police brutality, hate crimes, etc. But while they all seem to vein out into seperate directions, I would argue that they are, in fact, all rooted in the same thesis–– conflict is more profitable than peace.
The business of war has been the mode of operation for the US over the past several decades, what has changed between the Vietnam War when protests and draft avoidance were commonplace? What has made individuals ambivalent about their country’s involvement in conflicts abroad? Is it the censorship of the media? The over-saturation of information from mass media including social media? Or is it the progressive and systematic implementation of fear?
Perhaps the problem is not negligence but rather the intricate web of facts and players that have generated the complicated state of affairs from which crises emerge. The limited and speculative layers of (mis)information, both at home and abroad, is overwhelming, painful to believe and complicated to process. This lends itself to the hesitation of diving into the facts and yet, for my practice, I have made it my concentration to chip away at deciphering this information, while simultaneously refusing to engage in the structure that sets me against my own, which begs the question, what is “my own”?
- Bayouny, Yara. “Obama Administration arms sales offers to Saudi top $115 billion: report.” Reuters. September 7th, 2016(https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-saudi-security/obama-administration-arms-sales-offers-to-saudi-top-115-billion-report-idUSKCN11D2JQ)
- Deyoung, Karen / Rucker, Philip. “Trump signs ‘tremendous’ deals with Saudi Arabia on his first day overseas”. Washington Post. May 20, 2017. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-gets-elaborate-welcome-in-saudi-arabia-embarking-on-first-foreign-trip/2017/05/20/679f2766-3d1d-11e7-a058-ddbb23c75d82_story.html?utm_term=.dc7d78ce466b)
- Ivanova, Irina. “Saudi Arabia is America’s No. 1 weapons customer.” CBS News. October 12, 2018. (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/saudi-arabia-is-the-top-buyer-of-u-s-weapons/)